With fertilizer too costly, farmer Chris Lantzsch is cutting down on expenses by using free, treated biosolids from sewage treatment plants. But his use of what's also called sludge isn't sitting well with neighbors.

"I don't think people should smell it down there as long as they did," says Texas Township supervisor John McDonald, himself a farmer. "The stench was awful. It went on for weeks."

Although the smell from the material — which is allowed under state regulations — is dissipating, the effect on community perception is lasting. McDonald says supervisors are thinking about developing an ordinance in response to numerous residents' complaints about the smell.

But whether the supervisors can actually ban a legally permitted practice is another question. Lantzch's farm is in a state-designated area known as an Agriculture Security Zone, which protects common and legal farming practices from nuisance laws.

"If he is doing normal farming practices, there (are) not a lot of nuisance laws that could be applied," says Dave Kennedy, Wayne County Conservation District nutrition management specialist.

Lantzsch has commercially farmed on his 340 acres since 1982, raising chickens and beef cattle.

Lantzsch has used the biosolids for 2 years. He prefers them to traditional applied fertilizers, which he says are too costly for him at this time.

And contrary to rumors in the community, Lantzsch says he does not use raw sewage. This year, he had Lang Environmental of Narrowsburg, N.Y., apply the biosolids.

After complaints about the smell from Lantzsch's farm last month, an investigation determined that he has the required permits to use biosolids, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Mark Carmon says, and no violations were found.

Carmon confirmed that Lantzsch uses treated material taken from sewage treatment plants. He described the material as Class A, which is considered high-quality fertilizer.

The smell reported by residents, Carmon says, may have been exacerbated by Lantzsch's use of no-till, since the sludge was not ploughed or turned under the soil surface.

Despite his neighbors' complaints, Lantzsch says he's going to continue to use the material because "it just makes sense."

"I'd rather use natural fertilizer," he says.